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Bears envision better balance, more production on offense

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Chicago Bears: Offensive juggernaut?

That may be a stretch, but it didn't stop linebacker Brian Urlacher from gushing.

"Look at all the weapons we have," he said. And yes, he really was talking about the offense.

That may jar Bears fans who are used to seeing their team win on the strength of its defense, but the defending NFC champions believe an offense that ranked 15th last year will be better and more balanced. With more speed and depth among the receivers, they envision a more open offense.

"The Bears have been a defensive team forever," wide receiver Bernard Berrian said. "It's good to say that the offense is coming along."

The Bears' confidence is based on the belief that a veteran offensive line will continue to perform at a high level. That Cedric Benson is ready to carry the load at running back. That Rex Grossman will be more consistent and that he'll have no trouble finding a target.

Training camp 2007


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Although he has been injured in each of his first two seasons, Benson has shown glimpses of his potential since the Bears took him with the fourth pick in the 2005 draft. He gained 647 yards last season and convinced management that it was time to make him the featured running back. So the club dealt Thomas Jones to the New York Jets even though he ran for more than 1,200 yards each of the past two seasons.

How well Benson performs - and holds up - will go a long way toward determining how far the Bears go. The same is true with Grossman.

He showed split personalities last season after missing most of the previous two with an ACL injury and a broken ankle. His quarterback rating fluctuated like an ocean's tide, cresting over 100 in seven games and crashing to 10.2 or less in three.

He was 20-of-27 with 289 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 148.0 rating in Week 2 against Detroit. And he bottomed out in the final regular-season game against Green Bay, when he was 2-for-12 with 33 yards. He had three interceptions, no touchdowns, and his rating for that game was 0.0.

That's right, 0.0.

And he was almost as bad against Minnesota on Dec. 3, when he went 6-for-19 with 34 yards, three interceptions, no touchdowns and a 1.3 rating.

At times, he showed poise in the pocket. At times, he panicked under defensive pressure.

He passed for 23 touchdowns and threw 20 interceptions, all of which made it tough to predict which Grossman would show up.

"I think I feel just more relaxed with all the reads and all the different things that I've worked on in the offseason," Grossman said. "Hopefully, that'll show come September."

Grossman will have a few more targets this year.

Besides two-time Pro Bowl pick Muhsin Muhammad and deep threat Berrian, wide receiver Mark Bradley is healthy after missing five games with an ankle injury. Special teams standout Devin Hester will see time at receiver, and the Bears now have two pass-catching threats at tight end after drafting Greg Olsen from Miami to complement Desmond Clark.

"It's going to be tough for defenses to match up against us," said Clark, who set a career-high with 626 yards and tied one with six touchdowns. "When (we) put those two tight ends out there, if you leave three linebackers in the game, one of us is going to get open. And if you bring a DB in the game and try to cover him or cover me, we'll pound you."

Maybe now the offense will share some of the spotlight with a defense that's been pounding opponents the past few years.

"I knew eventually we'd get there," said Berrian, who in his third season set a career-high with 775 yards. "It's about time we got there."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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